Two metal detectorists have been given suspended jail sentences in what is being hailed as a landmark case for the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It is the first time that such a ruling has been made since the scheme, which was piloted in the 1990s, came fully into force in 2003.
Peter Cox, aged 69, and Darren West, aged 51, both from
Northamptonshire, were sentenced by Northampton Crown Court on
December 19 to one year's imprisonment, suspended for two years,
after pleading guilty to stealing artefacts from and causing
serious damage to a scheduled monument at Chester Farm, near
Irchester in Northamptonshire.
The case arose as the result of an investigation by a heritage
crime partnership involving English Heritage, Northamptonshire
Police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the British
The sentences also included 150 hours of community service, a
curfew, confiscation of metal detecting equipment, compensation for
damage caused to the scheduled monument, and Anti-Social Behaviour
Orders that restrict use of metal detecting equipment.
Mike Harlow, Governance and Legal Director of English Heritage,
said: "The sentence today sets an important watershed in the combat
against illegal metal detecting and acknowledges its true impact on
The scheduled monument at Chester Farm, owned by
Northamptonshire County Council (NCC), includes Iron Age and
medieval settlement remains but is most significant for its
surviving remains of a Roman walled town that includes roads,
temples and many other buildings. The site has long suffered from
trespassers, and a Grade II* listed 16th and 17th century farmhouse
on the site was seriously damaged by arson in 2010.
Northamptonshire Police launched an investigation after two
English Heritage officers witnessed the two men metal detecting at
the scheduled monument last July. Damage had also been caused to
the scheduled monument by the excavation of trenches, which had
been illegally dug in search of artefacts.
The police quickly arrested the men and raided their homes. A
large amount of Iron Age, Roman and medieval coins, metal artefacts
and pottery, along with metal-detecting equipment and documents
relating to the scheduled monument, were recovered.
Experts from the British Museum helped to identify and date the
archaeological finds. English Heritage submitted a heritage impact
statement that highlights the national importance of the site and
the irreversible damage caused by Cox and West.
"These are not people enjoying a hobby or professionals
carrying out a careful study," said Mr Harlow. "They are thieves
using metal detectors like a burglar uses a jemmy. The material
they are stealing belongs to the landowner and the history they are
stealing belongs to all of us. Once the artefacts are removed from
the ground and sold, the valuable knowledge they contain is lost
Mr Harlow added that "this is a notoriously difficult crime to
prosecute and convict", a factor that may explain why there has
been no similarly successful prosecution before in the decade that
the scheme has been fully operational.
Mark Holmes, senior crown prosecutor and heritage crime
co-ordinator for CPS East Midlands, said: "This practice of illegal
metal detecting and stealing artefacts from the ground has been a
growing problem, which the CPS takes seriously. Often carried out
by so-called 'enthusiasts', this kind of activity has retained a
veneer of respectability which it just does not deserve.
"Land is being damaged; the theft of ancient artefacts robs us
of important information about our heritage and the artefacts
themselves are lost to the public.
"This case is the largest-scale operation we have prosecuted for
this type of crime. It should serve as a warning to anyone else
involved in this activity that it is a crime and if you are caught
you face prosecution and a criminal record.
"The CPS will continue to work closely with our partners in
preventing heritage crime and ensuring perpetrators are brought to
The Portable Antiquities
Scheme, funded by the Culture department, encourages the
voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of
the public in England and Wales.
Properly reported finds made by detectorists who have secured
official permission to search by landowners can be rewarded, with
the finder and landowner sharing a payment of the market value of
what has been found.
The scheme was piloted after the passing of The Treasure Act,
which replaced the medieval law of Treasure Trove in 1996, and
acknowledges the importance of retaining items in context, allowing
experts to build up a picture of the historical and archaeological
setting of finds.